Aaron Cruden will make his return for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes from the bench, and it couldn't come soon enough, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
While Gareth Anscombe has proven a worthy deputy in his absence, Cruden has shown that he is a big-game player, and that experience will prove vital in the run-in.
He has been out since fracturing his thumb in the draw against the Cheetahs, but it was his performance the week before against the Bulls that showed his true value to the team.
Despite having an off-day with the boot, he pulled the strings and had the Chiefs backline purring as they made off with three points from Loftus, courtesy of a bonus-point draw. Expect him to have a similar impact off the bench on Saturday, as he faces up to his competition for the All Blacks No 10 jersey in Beauden Barrett.
The Chiefs scored a narrow four-point win in this fixture last season, but it is the Canes that have had the better of it in recent times. Prior to that loss, the Canes had won four on the trot against the Chiefs in Wellington.
The Chiefs have made three changes to their side, all in the backline. Asaeli Tikoirotuma and Charlie Ngatai return from injury to take their place on the left wing and at outside centre respectively. Tim Nanai-Williams, who has recommitted to the Chiefs for the 2015 season, returns to fullback. Kane Thompson comes into the reserves and is joined by Cruden and Tom Marshall.
The Hurricanes have been boosted by the return of hooker Dane Coles, who was sorely missed against the Highlanders last week. Barrett, who went off early in the defeat due to a hip complaint, has recovered well and will start in the pivot position.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Hurricanes 11, Chiefs 10, Drawn 1
In Wellington: Hurricanes 7, Chiefs 4
CRUDEN'S STATS THAT MATTER
11 – The number of offloads he has made this season (Rank 22)
1 – The number of try assists he has made (Rank 63)
1 – The number of tries he has scored (Rank 94)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Chiefs – 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Dwayne Sweeney, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Kane Thompson, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Tom Marshall.
Hurricanes – 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon/Reggie Goodes, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Reggies Goodes/Mike Kainga, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Tim Bateman, 23 Matt Proctor/James Marshall.
Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images